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Hamas Leader, 14 Others, Mostly Children Killed in Israeli Attack - 2002-07-23

An Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip late Monday killed the commander of the military wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The attack left another 14 Palestinians dead, most of them children, and injured over 100 others.

Palestinian news agencies said Salah Shehade, his wife and three children were killed when an Israeli F-16 dropped a precision-guided bomb on their house in the Gaza Strip. Several other nearby houses were also flattened.

Mr. Shehade was the head of the Izzadine al-Qassam military wing of Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the air strike as a great success but said he regrets the death of civilians. He also suggested the attack would bring reprisals by warning all Israelis to remain on the alert.

Israel's foreign ministry said the militant leader was a known terrorist who was responsible for hundreds of attacks on Israeli civilians in recent years.

Senior Palestinian officials described the attack as a war crime and accused Israel of trying to sabotage efforts to put the peace process back on track.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also condemned it, saying Israel has the responsibility to avoid the loss of innocent life, something it clearly failed to do when it launched the attack.

A spontaneous anti-Israeli demonstration broke out in Tulkarm in the West Bank overnight and Palestinian groups have called for a day of rage on Tuesday to protest the Israeli strike.

Israeli radio reported a series of what it described as nearly continuous incidents in several places in the Gaza Strip. The radio said Palestinian militants attacked Israeli military positions in the area with rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons.